Daytona Beach, FL - Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to Daytona's Victory Lane for the first time in more than two years, winning the Busch Series race Friday night. Earnhardt took the lead early and dominated the rest of the way, holding off Brian Vickers after a late restart in the Winn-Dixie 250.
It was Junior's first victory at Daytona since Feb. 16, 2004, when he won the rain-delayed Busch Series event a day after taking the checkered flag in the Daytona 500.
"I don't know if I got my mojo back, but I feel like given the equipment necessary to make a performance like we made tonight, I'm as good as anybody when it comes to racing at Daytona or Talladega," he said. "Every driver in the field thinks they're the best one out there, and if you don't feel that way, maybe that's something you should try.
"When I get in the car and go to plate races, I don't think there's a person out there that understands it like I understand it, knows what to do and when to do it or knows that split-second decision to make. I feel very confident that when it comes down to my mind vs. their mind I've got it covered."
It sure looked that way Friday.
Earnhardt led by as much as 14 seconds in his No. 8 Chevrolet, but Vickers and a few others had one final shot to get by him after a restart with two laps to go. Earnhardt, though, easily pulled away — much like he did most of the night.
"That 8 car, he had a fifth gear," Vickers said. "On the restart, he did drop the hammer and go."
Added Harvick: "We didn't have anything for the 8."
Earnhardt led 88 of 103 laps and picked up his 21st Busch Series victory, tying his late father and Harry Gant for seventh on the career list.
"The cloudy skies are now sunny," Junior said. "Tying my dad in anything is pretty damn awesome."
It also was the 19th victory by a Nextel Cup regular in the last 21 Busch Series races.
Nextel Cup drivers won the first 15 Busch events this year. David Gilliland ended the streak two weeks ago in Kentucky, and Paul Menard made it two in a row for non-Nextel Cup drivers last week in Wisconsin.
But things returned to normal at Daytona — for the series and maybe for Earnhardt, who has 10 victories at Daytona.
Earnhardt moved in front of Denny Hamlin on lap 16 and opened up a huge lead before the first of several cautions, two of them caused by multicar crashes.
Reed Sorenson and open-wheel driver Paul Tracy made contact with 45 laps to go, causing damage to three other cars.
A few laps later, Edwards bumped Michael Waltrip's car four times before sending it spinning into the wall. Five others were caught in the melee that happened directly behind Earnhardt.
Edwards was penalized a lap for aggressive driving, but rebounded to finish fifth.